The Portland Timbers are on the road this weekend, headed to the East Coast to take on the New York Red Bulls. Currently riding a six-game unbeaten streak, the Timbers have every chance of taking home a result against the slumping Red Bulls in this fixture.
Of course, there are plenty of obstacles between the Timbers and the point -- or three -- thats they would like to come away with from this match. Looming largest is the continued absence of Diego Valeri, who did not travel with the team to New York for the match. Valeri, who is now on seven goals and five assists for the season, is the spark that the Timbers' attack relies on for breaking down packed in defenses and his absence in Monday's 0-0 draw against the Colorado Rapids was keenly felt.
Team captain Liam Ridgewell may also miss out on this match. Although the designated player center back did travel with the side, it remains a game-time decision as to whether Ridgewell will be ready to play against New York. For a Timbers' side that has struggled with their defense this season, a consistently healthy Ridgewell will be an important part of any late-season run that the team will look to make. With that -- and the Red Bull's recently anemic attack -- in mind, it might behoove the Timbers to keep Ridgewell on the sidelines for this one and get him as healthy as possible.
Missing both Valeri and Ridgewell leaves the Timbers with two big holes to fill in their lineup. However, with the recent return of Darlington Nagbe and Alvas Powell to the side, the Timbers have more flexibility now than they have had for much of this injury-riddled season. Looking at the side's recent run-out against the Rapids, the Timbers seem likely to bring a similar lineup to bear against New York, inserting Jermaine Taylor into the center of the defense and giving Nagbe the reins and moving him to the center of the pitch.
The high press that the side employed against the Rapids could also pay dividends in New York against a Red Bulls team that has been decidedly shaky along the back line this season. Vulnerable to turning the ball over under pressure and being hit on the counter, if the Timbers can replicate their strong defensive showing from Monday they should be able to take advantage of New York's back line.
On the other side of the ball, the Timbers will need to be wary of New York's two central pillars in the attack: Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Both players have been in fine form at home, despite their struggles over the last Red Bulls' last three matches -- all of which have been on the road. After a slow start to the season, Wright-Phillips is now on nine goals and Kljestan is on ten assists, both having played eighteen games this season.
Severing the tie between the two will be vital to the Timbers' success in limiting the Red Bull's attack, a goal that will require good communication and aggressive play from the back line to isolate Wright-Phillips and constant marking from the midfield to keep Kljestan from picking him out.
Watch it on: ESPN2
Kickoff: 3:00 p.m. PT at Red Bulls Stadium in Harrison, NJ
Portland Timbers: 6-6-6, 7th place in the Western Conference
New York Red Bulls: 7-9-2, 4th place in the Eastern Conference